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Social Life as Drama

When sociologists want to focus on the doings of the social life ,the most common images evoked are those of drama. Social life is a theatre where we are seen to play social roles as we lead our lives. Identities become masks, as we ask questions about the disparities between the real and its presented appearance.

Its key sociological thinker is Erving Goffman 1922–1982 who has examined the close up, small scale, face-to-face social life in which people encounter each other. He showed us how societies may be seen as partially constituted through these face to face encounters in which people manage the impressions they give to each other.

In his first book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), he observed the lives of people on a Hebrides Island and documents the myriad ways in which people play roles and present themselves in different ways as they move across different social situations, working hard to manage the impressions they give off of themselves.

In his later book Asylums (1961) he examined the under life of people living in hospitals, concentration camps, prisons and what he calls 'total institutions' where people are cut off from the routines of normal everyday life. Again his focus is on the drama of life how the self gets mortified in these extreme situations, and how people rework a sense of who they are.